The 101: Elevate Your Business - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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The 101: Elevate Your Business

By Mike McCarron, Image Works Landscaping

I once heard someone say, “Every line is the perfect length if you don’t measure it.” If you’re like many business owners in our industry, you probably think you know how successful your business is or isn’t, right? But, how do you know for sure? The only way to really know is to measure it.

Many business owners are so focused on their financial information that they don’t see the other areas that also need their attention. Areas like employee training and morale, client management, sales processes, and equipment management often suffer from a lack of needed attention.

Client Retention: The age-old question is whether to keep all your current clients at all costs or let some of them go because they are no longer profitable to keep. If you went to business school, you probably learned that it’s cheaper to keep an existing client than it is to have to constantly seek new ones. That may be true if the existing client is easy to work with, pays their invoices on time, and doesn’t require special care and handling. But what about a client who is underpriced and has special “needs” that are time-consuming, costly, and not profitable?

I label such clients “time-suckers” because they consume countless hours of time and resources that I can never recoup. Sometimes, it’s worth it to endure the challenges they present because their needs are minor or they are a great source of referrals.

But sometimes letting go of a needy client is a good idea, especially when economic challenges such as skyrocketing fuel costs, labor shortages, and high labor costs are part of the equation. In these cases, you’re battling an economic monster that requires you to finely tune your business model and client base. It’s hard to let a long-time client go, but if they no longer fit into your financial model, you may have to. If you decide to change business segments, for example, moving from residential to commercial, you may have to let some clients go to be able to focus your resources on making the new segment as profitable as possible.

To get a clearer picture of where you may need to retain certain clients and let others go, conduct a simple dollars-in vs. dollars-out analysis over a quarterly or yearly period, and let that data help you decide what you should do. Review the total labor hours spent vs. the total income and referrals to determine what’s best. Simple math sometimes tells a hard truth.

Equipment Upgrades and Replacements: Given the current environment’s supply-chain issues and skyrocketing costs, this is a tough time for equipment and vehicle management. You absolutely need to make a master list of all the equipment you own and where that equipment is in its life cycle.

Break your list down into the following categories: handheld equipment, vehicles, electronics, and office equipment. Some of these items have longer shelf lives and can be easily “stretched” beyond their life expectancies, if necessary. Others will require an upgrade or replacement to keep your operation viable.
To get a clear picture of what equipment/software you require to keep your operation running, make a list of each item in your inventory with its purchase date and expected end-of-life date.

Note what parts and software may need an upgrade or replacement during its use season. Order the spare parts you may need (Don’t wait until you need them. In today’s environment they may not be available). Review this list every quarter and fine-tune it with any information updates you may have.
The ultimate goal here is to plan ahead for items you may need so that you are able to address those needs quickly. Also, note what equipment and parts you may be able to swap around, if necessary. Remember, a failure to plan is a plan to fail!

Employees: Labor availability is the number one challenge in today’s environment. It’s an employee’s market, and the employees have a choice of where they want to work. Unfortunately, an employee can be easily swayed to another company down the street by a slightly higher hourly rate, better benefits, a unique bonus plan, or a more hospitable and supportive work environment. Yes, you read that correctly…a more hospitable and supportive work environment.

I believe our industry can do a better job of attracting employees and helping them to see that they can build a good career in our industry and at our companies by showing them that the work environment is one in which they want to be. Many employees are seeking a better way of life through their employers. They often look for companies that will treat them with respect and dignity, provide a healthy work environment, and pay them an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

To build a more favorable and enjoyable work environment, consider having random events like cookouts to celebrate success after a good or particularly difficult week of work. Schedule some breakfast events during your weekly kick-off meetings.

This past spring, I prepared an Easter egg game for one of our Monday morning all-staff meetings. I had a plastic egg for each employee plus one extra egg placed in an Easter basket. We passed the basket around and each person took an egg. I then told them that one of the eggs contained a surprise and the rest were empty. We focused on each person as they had their turn to open their egg. There was much banter and laughter. On the first pass, no one chose the egg with the surprise in it. We put all the eggs back in the basket, I put the surprise in a different egg, and we passed the basket again. Someone finally got the egg with the surprise. The surprise was a $20 bill.

This seemingly silly game had everyone pulling for each other to get the surprise and built an enormous amount of esprit de corps and collegiality among my team.

One final thought: be present at the morning send-off or the evening return and say, “Thank you,” shake a few hands, and be available to show that you are grateful for their service. You’ll be surprised at how much that says about your company’s culture and how much you appreciate your team and the work they do.

Sales and Internal Processes: Sales and marketing have been forever changed by the recent pandemic. Working from home two to three times a week (or more) has become the norm in many industries. Clients who are working from home now can really see what our teams do when they are on the client’s property. This makes your team’s behavior on the client’s property of major importance.

Have a process in place for how your team will behave, where they will park and how they will interact with clients who seek to engage them in conversation. I once saw a sign in a high school office that said: “Character is what people see when you think they are not looking.” Cameras, video doorbells, and clients looking out their windows from behind the drapes are the new reality. Our teams need to be on their best behavior all the time.

Help them to be highly successful by providing them with behavior expectations while at client properties, when they are on the road traveling to and from those properties, and any time they are in public. Remember, your company name is on the side of the vehicle. Your team’s behavior is your brand.
An advancement in client communication comes with the numerous robust video conferencing applications that have emerged during the pandemic. It’s now much easier for your sales team to interact with clients.

Encourage your sales team to check in with clients using a video conferencing tool. Face-to-face interaction is still a richer form of communication than email, text, or phone. Consider presenting proposals to potential clients using video conference tools. The world is changing…quickly. Embrace new technology, evolve with it, and use it to your advantage.

This article was published in the Sept/Oct issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Mike McCarron

Mike McCarron is president and founder of Image Works Landscape Management, a commercial landscape maintenance and snow removal firm in Fairfax Station, Virginia, and a 22-year veteran of the industry.